Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Arc

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Released 1991 on Reprise
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 13/10/2004ce

1. Arc (34:57)

Neil Young: guitar & lead vocal
Frank Sampedro: guitar & univox stringman
Billy Talbot: bass
Ralph Molina: drums

The story is that while Sonic Youth was playing the opening slot on a Neil Young tour, Neil is sitting in his dressing room listening to tapes of the shows when Thurston Moore walks in and quips that the noisy feedback jams between the actual songs are the best part, and maybe he should put out an album of just that stuff. So Neil goes home and edits a bunch of noise into a 35 minute long feedback suite on his Macintosh, and thus the album "Arc" was born.

"Arc" was originally released in conjunction with the 1991 double live CD "Weld" (though it's always been available separately, and budget-priced to boot!) What can I say? They didn't call him the "grandpa of grunge" in the early 90's for nothing. Neil's zig zag career path that has taken him from playing old timey numbers in the middle of the road to screwing with vocoders & synths & noise somewhere in the fringe of the gutter, and certainly this album marks one extreme of Neil's "non-commercial" mojo.

There's really nothing new or revolutionary about 35 minute long blasts of noise & feedback, it was a well-established genre long before 1991. But "Arc" excels as a composition based on the unique strengths of the players involved: could anyone besides Neil Young make a freakout noise jam that is heartfelt, sentimental & funny?* And could any group besides Crazy Horse produce this particular flavor of telepathic free-form rock music?

Structurally "Arc" is a flowing sequence of loud blasts of improvised noise that served to bridge between songs on the tour. Specifically, the trail-out final chorus of "Love and Only Love" and the first verse of "Like A Hurricane"** reoccur a few times, played with maximum spacegrunge corrosion. The overall effect is a bit like some kind of super-illbient remix of old Neil Young love songs! But it's just this wailing about the human heart that gives "Arc" a heart and makes it something special -- it's not tumultuous noise for the sake of tumultuous noise, but rather this bunch of noise tells a story, conveys a mood, even imparts a moral. Mumbling "I wanna love ya" and "I'm so sorry" and other such heartbroken asides in the midst of the maelstrom produces an effect somewhat like Dinosaur jr's more-noise-will-drown-out-the-pain approach to musical catharsis.*** The finale, a rousing stomping bit with Neil bellowing "NOOO! MOOOORE! PAAAIN!!!!" not only hammers this point home, it also provides a nicely uplifting denouement. This is cleansing music for the spirit, it will suck all the ugly right outta ya!

Ever since it first came out this has been one of my favorite Neil Young records, and it still is (alongside "Time Fades Away", "On The Beach" & "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.") First class guitar noise all the way, by a group of masters of the form. You can also hear (and see!) quite a bit more of Crazy Horse's "free jazz" stylings in the 1997 concert documentary "Year of the Horse".

* Around 28:30 into the piece the band gently slides into a funky mellow jam for about 60 seconds, then (via an edit) suddenly they're back into bracing slamming noise while Neil is heard to mutter "er, sorry about that" -- cracks me up every time!

** Apparently that treble-squall organ used on "Like A Hurricane" is called a Univox Stringman. Sampedro plays creepy washes of high-pitched insect drone on it throughout "Arc", a really neat sound I don't think I've heard anywhere else.

*** Of course J Mascis in particular always got compared to Neil Young -- I wonder if Neil heard about all that and this album was in part his "reply" to Dinosaur jr? Taken in the broader sense of "the Icon paying tribute to his youthful followers and out-doing them in the process", sure why not!

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